Sunday, August 26, 2012

Ki Tetze- Be a Jew and a Mentsch in the Street

Ki tetze…
When you go out…
Jews pay attention to what other Jews do in public.  This is a fact known in the community, and one I have written about.  We are conscious of who is a Jew, at least in name, and how s/he acts in the world.  Parashat Ki Tetze gives us at least part of the rulebook for our interactions in the world.  It is a rulebook ahead of its time, beginning with laws governing basic human kindness during a time when might made right.
The scope of interaction is vast.  We begin with the capture of women in war, certainly a giant step from the reality of the day.  Following are the rights of the firstborn, although this too reacts to the displacement of a first wife for a more beloved one, the disobedient son, basic laws of kindness- to the other people, to the dead, and to animals.  The issues of adultery and divorce are addressed, as well as rape.  Sexual acts, the most intimate of interaction, are given a holy structure.  In its proper place it is elevated and holy, but outside that place it is debased.  This is far from the ritual sexual excess of some groups at the time, or the sinful view of sex from later ones.  Even in a time of arranged marriage, the importance of the developing relationship between newlyweds is stressed.  The slave trade is legislated away.  Needs are addressed.  Money lending and vows are recognized as part of society, but limits are set.  Fair treatment of workers is stressed.  Injustice and dishonesty condemned.
The parasha opens with the words ki tetze, when you go out.  What follows are rules of war, but the opening words set the tone for the rest of our reading.  When we go out how do we act?  Are we a Jew at home and a merely a mentsch in the street?  Should we not be both at all times?  To see our laws as pertaining only to our private lives, but not when we go out is not acceptable.  Neither is it permissible to ignore the view of the world when we do go out.
The parasha ends with a reminder timche et zeicher Amalek mitachat hashamayim lo tishkach; blot out the memory of Amalek from under the Heavens; do not forget.  Amalek is condemned for his cowardly attack of the weakest of society at the rear of the Israelite procession.  His memory illustrates the opposite of what we are commanded to do.  When you go out care about others.  Protect the weak.  At all times be both a Jew and a mentsch.

There But By The Grace of God Go We

On Thursday Gavi and I spent a wonderful day together at the Empire State Building.  We went up to the observation deck; took lots of pictures, bought souvenirs, and ate hot pretzels.  We also spent about 40 minutes standing near the 5th Avenue entrance waiting for our ride.

On Friday, just feet from where Gavi and I had stood, police shot Jeffrey Johnson, while nine bystanders were struck by stray bullets.

Gavi and I had hitched a ride into the City with my brother, who was going to meet his architect at his apartment, currently under renovation.  Russ dropped us at 36th and 6th.  While Gavi and I walked to the Empire State Building I gave him a lesson in walking in New York.  Lessons for the day included going with the traffic flow (you keep walking in the direction you need to go as long as the lights are with you, only crossing the street if the light is in your favor, or you have reached the point when you must).  There was also the "Never pick anything up from the street in Manhattan" and "New York pretzels are best with mustard."  We had a lovely day.  It was a Gavi talking day from the moment we exited the car to the moment we got back in.  We examined the view in every direction.  Gavi found Central Park, where we'd been the day before.  I pointed out Macy's and the Met Life building, where my father worked for many years.  Gavi found the many NYC bridges and the Statue of Liberty.  He took dozens of pictures.  I spoke with a woman from the Midwest with a son approximately the same age.  She found it funny that I'd grown up in NY, spent most of my life, and had never made it to the top of the Empire State Building before.  She gave Gavi 50cents to use the binoculars.  As a tourist, she  had come wonderfully prepared.  I, a New Yorker, came with nothing.  When we'd seen enough, we headed to the gift shops (yes, shops).  We left with key chains (Gavi collects), hot pretzels (including one for Keren), and an NYPD hat.  We went outside to wait for Russell, and watch New York go by.

About sixteen hours later, Steven Ercolino was shot by Jeffrey Johnson on 33rd Street.  After killing Mr. Ercolino, Johnson turned the corner onto 5th Avenue into the sights of two NYC police officers.  Johnson opened fire.  The officers returned fire.  Nine bystanders were hit exactly where Gavi and I stood sixteen hours earlier, and where I had actually planned on being that day.  My original plan was to head back to NYC on Friday (after a day in Central Park on Tuesday).  Russell had to meet his architect, and only Gavi really wanted to see the Empire State Building, so we hitched a ride on Thursday.

There, but by the grace of God go we...

Monday, August 20, 2012

Shofetim- Morality, Virtue, Justice, Decency, Uprightness, Goodness, Etc., Etc., Etc.

Tzedek tzedek tirdof.                        Justice justice you shall pursue.

Tzedek tzedek tirdof. These words have become as much a motto for the Jewish people as the Shema. We are so often told the reasons for our actions are “because we were slaves in Egypt.” We interpret this as a call to act righteously, justly, and to pursue that which is fair, moral, and proper. 
Tzedek tzedek tirdof. How to translate this? Tirdof- to pursue, to run after, is clear. There is an urgency in the word. The repetition of tzedek also implies urgency, a need that must be satisfied. Tzedek tzedek tirdof. Justice, justice you shall pursue is the most common translation, but there is so much more wrapped up in these words. The ta’amin, the notes by which we chant the Torah, are quick, urgent. There is no comma between Tzedek and tzedek. The repetition of the word is not a stutter, but a second affirmation of the urgency in this command. 
In the time of the giving of the Torah, the meaning was clear. But all who study in multiple languages know traduttore traditore; Italian for the ‘translator is a traitor’. Even when seeking to understand more, we limit our understanding. Tzedek is most often translated in this verse as ‘justice’, but normally it is translated as ‘righteousness’.
Tzedek tzedek tirdof- Righteousness righteousness you shall urgently pursue. That is to say morality, virtue, justice, decency, uprightness, goodness, integrity, uprightness, rectitude, and honesty*
During this time from Av to Elul to Tishrei and the Yamim Noraim, we are reminded of the damage done when we lay aside the urgent pursuit of justice and righteousness, and how important it is that we explore the full meaning of tzedek in our lives.

* List from the Encarta World English Dictionary

Final Olympic Thoughts

The Olympics are over for another two years.  I liked it better when they were actually every four years.  We had a full year of Olympic fever and real down time between them.  I think the decision was a commercial one.  Merchandising is continuous.  We've ended this Olympics, but are already gearing up for the next Winter Olympics. 

As an ending to my Olympic thoughts I want to share two thoughts stolen from others that I fully enjoyed.

#1- The biggest disappointment of the Olympic Opening Ceremonies- David Beckham wearing a suit.  The point was made that this is a beautiful and fit man, maybe one of the best on the planet.  Would it have hurt him to don a speedo for queen and country.  Let's see what England is really proud about!

#2- It was suggested that the Olympic Opening Ceremony was satanic ritual.  The torch, the site, the rings, all was a connected to evil and Satan.  The column was like an episode of Charmed.  I loved Charmed.  I'm all for blending types of entertainment.  Thank you to this group for making me laugh out loud.  Oh, and of course to England for ensuring the site was on a center of evil.  Where would we have been without that.

I'll watch the Winter Olympics.  I'll be there from start to finish.  Looking forward to it.  See you in Russia in 2014!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Parashat Re'eh- Kashrut & Cookbooks

God said to Moshe:  You shall not seethe a kid in its mother's milk.
Moshe said to God:  Oh! Ok.  So we're going to have separate pots for foods with milk and foods with meat.
God said to Moshe:  You shall not seethe a kid in its mother's milk.
Moshe said to God:  Oh!  Ok.  So after we eat meat, we're going to wait three hours before we eat anything dairy.
God said to Moshe:  You shall not seethe a kid in its mother's milk.
Moshe said to God:  Oh!  Ok.  So we're going to wash our meat and dairy pots, dishes and utensils with separate sponges.
Finally God says: Oh fine. Have it your way!
While searching the web for the half remembered phrasing of the above joke, I came across a dvar by Rabbi Amy Levin, of East Greenwich, Rhode Island, USA. She too used this joke to illustrate parashat Re’eh, which, among other things, discusses kashrut. In her blog,, on the shul’s website, Rabbi Levin also listed three reasons for “cherishing, embracing, and committing” to kashrut. They were too good not to share.
1.  Kashrut compels us to be mindful of what we put into our mouths. Rather than grabbing what is handy, we train ourselves to elevate our choices, to infuse what nourishes our bodies with a spiritual dimension.
2.  Kashrut is our quiet rebellion. History and fate have placed us in a culture focused on consumption, on instant gratification, on latest fads . . . kashrut is an eternal, consistent core criteria, it does not change with the seasons. Kashrut is like a mast that holds steady in constantly changing winds.
3.  Kashrut: our not-so-secret handshake. It's just so Jewish. Kashrut is a way to express, and to enhance, our sense of belonging to the Jewish world. It's the way Jews eat. It's never having to be apologetic because you can't invite someone Jewish to your home. It's a way to express the Jewishness of your home and family that links you to Jews all over the world and Jews throughout history.
Kashrut makes us conscious. If we have to react to what we put in our mouths, reciting blessings before and after, then eating must become a thoughtful act. We begin to appreciate whence comes our food, and how it gets to our plate. In addition, Rav Sean and I love to cook.  We have an amazing cookbook collection. The number was over 100 at last count.  (It may rival the Hagaddah collection.) The best cookbooks share stories.  From the Junior’s! Remembering Brooklyn with Recipes and Memories from its Favorite Restaurant to Recipes Remembered: A Celebration of Survival, these share not only recipes, but also stories of our people and our struggles, and connect us through the generations.  Come to our house.  We’ll feed you, and I’ll show off the framed, faded recipe for madelbrot I used to bake mandel with my mother for each holiday.

Lessons I Learned at Camp

All things in life have intended lessons and unintended lessons.  For instance, the unintended lesson of school is that we should take a vacation from learning, or learning is not for leisure time.  Some are lessons I hope to hold onto.  Others may fade with time.

There are lessons I have learned from summer camp.  These lessons come both from working at camp and from sending my children to camp.  Now that I'm back home, I have been able to put these into perspective.  Here they are...

1.  Everything is better if done standing on a bench.
          It seems that if you want to get attention, if you want to add a little thrill, or if you merely want to up the fun ante, whatever you're doing, do it standing on a bench.  It'll add that missing flair to anything.

2.  Have dessert at every meal.
          At camp everyone is so active that the extra calories are welcome.  It's also nice to end the day with a little something sweet.  Work hard.  Deserve your something sweet at the day's end.

3.  Salt everything, I mean everything!
         Camp food is infamous.  Brian, the Camp Ramah chef, does an amazing job, and the Ramah Canada food exceeds expectations.  However, for days after I can still feel the water I am retaining from the salt overload.

4.  Toilet paper is never over rated.
          Toilet paper is rationed at camp.  If rolls are allowed to flow out in abundance, they end up in all sorts of unintended places.  But, you don't want to be caught without that extra roll.  Make sure there's always a roll in reserve.  You'll be happier.

5.  No matter what it's labeled, check it again.  
          We found all sorts of mislabeled boxes and books while doing our job.  When so many people are working together and over many years, mistakes are bound to be made.  It becomes natural to assume the label is correct.  Look closer.  You never know what you may discover.  Speaking of that...

6.  Label everything.
         Things get misplaced.  They are dropped, left behind, and misplaced.  If it's labeled there's a chance it may return to it's home.  Give it a fair shot.

7.  Treasure troves do exist.
         Amidst the cleaning and dusting (Did I mention the dust?), we found all sort of great things.  We found Ramah lessons and activities, all in Hebrew, from 34 years ago.  We found old camp videos.  We found fascinating books by people we've heard of and even known.  It was like digging through a time capsule.

8.  Kids are like plants.  They need sun, water, air, and dirt to grow.
          Every summer my children seem to sprout.  It's as if they stretch out, making up for a year of sitting at a desk.  Out of their seats, spending active days, getting good and dirty, their bodies wake up and grow towards the sun.  I've seen this, not only in my own children, but in the teens with whom I worked, my friends' children, and the kids I see from summer to summer.  

9.  Go with the flow, or the crowd.
         It's great to just let go of worries and stresses, and allow yourself to flow along with life.  The key is learning when to do it.  It's okay to go along with the crowd when the crowd is going in the direction you want to be.  It's also important to know how to pick your crowd, but when you've picked well, you won't have to worry about going along.  It'll be right for you.

10. After all is said and done, something will be left to do.
         After thinking we'd picked up everything, we heard over the radio that there was more.  When we were finally done, and we had packed up and left camp, we suddenly remembered on more spot we needed to check.  Four days of intense, dirty, hard work, we did so much.  We even thought we'd finished, but there's always something else to do.  Lo alecha hamlacha ligmor, v'lo atah ben chorim l'hibatil mimena; it's not up to you to finish the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.

11. You have friends you don't realize or even know yet.
         Camp time is different than regular time.  Thrown together every day, and separated from the normal world, relationships of all kinds are much more intense.  Lifelong friends are made in moments.

12. It's never too soon to have a second childhood.
         We grow up not appreciating our environment or the opportunities it provides.  When you get the chance, relive it.  Climb a tree.  Make a s'more.  Climb on a bench.  Sing and dance.  Enjoy!

13. The pay is never enough, but it doesn't matter.
         If you're doing a job you don't enjoy, it doesn't matter if it's a great salary, the pay is never enough to compensate for the empty feeling you have spending your days at something without personal meaning.  If you have passion for what you do, you'd do it for free if it were possible.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Dust and the Rabbinic Eye

Each year Sean and I go up to Camp Ramah Canada.  The timing changes from year to year, but we are happy to be here.  Over the years, we have offered to "do whatever needs to be done."  This is something we should know better than to do.  We have moved from rabbinic teaching to doing exactly what need to be done.  Last year we cleaned the library of old, moldy (yes, moldy) tallitot, tefillin, and siddurim that had been left unclaimed and uncared for for far too long.  The work was physical and dirty, and very necessary.  Out of the mess we salvaged a few tallitot and sets of tefillin that could be used as loaners, and brought home 1/2 a set of tefillin to which we were able to add a second half.  It's amazing what is sometimes left behind.  

This year we were assigned the library and the organization of siddurim in camp for inventory.  It is dirty, dirty, dirty, dusty work.  Each year Howard Slepkowitz (sorry Howard if I spelled your name wrong), aka Sleppy, came up to clean up the library.  He's a librarian, and did a fine job.  His kids have now gone through Ramah, and the job fell to us.  We spent  three very long days, standing, stretching, dusting, lifting, pulling, pushing, and most of all schlepping.  Each night we returned to our tzrif (cabin) dirty, dusty, and sore, dust covering our clothes, our skin, and our nasal passages.  Books live there year round, even when the camp is closed, so there's a lot of moisture and creatures that can invade.

A rabbi's eye is different from a librarian's eye.  Sean and I can only work with a rabbi's eye, and that meant a reorganization.  

First, with the amazingly dry summer, the layers of dust were thicker than ever.  Every book needed to be removed from the shelves and wiped down.  The shelves themselves also needed to be removed and wiped.  In a rabbi's mind, or at least in this rabbi's mind, there is a progression of subjects in the library.  We didn't start out to reorganize, but as we moved further into the library it seemed to happen.  

We began in Reference.  That section was pretty much left alone, but with more time I would move more books from a reference section to be nearer to their topics.  Reference can be left to the encyclopedias.  Talmudic dictionaries belong with the many masechtot (volumes) of Talmud, always at hand to be pulled out together for study.  Next to reference was Philosophy and Jewish Thought.  Beyond that Lifecycle and Guides to Jewish Living.  Further on Kabbalah and Mysticism next to Halakhah (Jewish Law).  In my rabbinic eye, Kabbalah and Mysticism belong with Jewish Thought.  Jewish Practical Guides and Lifecycle flows into Halakhah since one naturally informs the other.  I'd also like to breakdown history, Hebrew, Holocaust, and Israel into smaller subjects.  This could go on for years.

Masechtot need to be in their proper order.  Tanakh (Bible), Mishneh, and Talmud have a chronological order that should not be ignored.  While intimately bound together, antisemitism does not necessarily belong to the section on Holocaust.

There was a wonderful section of educational books, programs, and guides for teachers, but as past teachers at Ramah, we knew no one ever looked there.  Therefore, guides for teaching prayer are with t'fillah (prayer).  Teachers guides on Israel are with Israel.  We hope this will help madrichim (counselors) and morim (teachers) find develop new program ideas.  

I'll admit we may have gone overboard.  We removed every novel and storybook, sorted by secular or Jewish in theme and by age.  Then again, I'm not sure D.H. Lawrence and The Hunger Games belong on the same shelf.

There were books it pained us to throw out, damp, spotted, and smelling of mildew.  Others boggled the mind.  Should a Jewish camp really have a book of Christian sermons from the 1950's entitled God, Christ, & Man.  Historical books about Jesus, maybe.  Volumes exploring comparative religion, definitely.  Christian theology, not a a Jewish, religious camp.

Having finished the reorganization, I have new found respect for, and a deeper understanding of the choice of rabbis as heads of the Jewish Theological Seminary Library.  What we keep on our shelves, whether as a movement, such as at JTS or Camp Ramah, or in our personal libraries, say much about who we are, what we believe, and what we value.  That a summer camp maintains a large library with books for pleasure reading and serious study says much about that camp's ideology and values.

Did I mention the dust?

Monday, August 13, 2012

Olympic Spirit

This week we have seen the highs and the lows of the Olympic spirit.  To tell the truth, I do not care so much for the lows.  As with any population, there are those who aim for the gold, and those who attempt to get something without deserving it.

When we do see the true Olympic spirit shine through, it is a thing of beauty and wonder.  Take the example of the US runner, Manteo Mitchell, who finished his leg of the 4x400 relay on a broken leg.  Just half-way through his section of the relay, Mitchell felt his leg break.  No one would have faulted him for stopping.  Mitchell, looking out towards his waving and cheering teammates knew if he could just get them the baton, they could get to the next level.  Through searing pain, for the good of his team, Mitchell kept going.  

No matter what the outcome of the final race, no matter where who stands on that podium, the name Manteo Mitchell will be one that is remembered in Olympic history, for he has embodied the Olympic spirit.  There's no medal that can prove that, only the heart of the athlete.

Hazak v'ematz Manteo.  May you continue to be strong and of great courage.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

I Still Love Dominik Diamond or Radio & Accents

Looking over my blog for the past year, I noticed that I had only one post in March.  It was titled, "I Love Dominik Diamond."  I was busy with a fundraiser (Thank you all who came and donated.), and Mr. Diamond, a relatively new DJ on Q107, my radio station of choice, posted the event info on his blog.  

I listen to Mr. Diamond on evenings coming home from kids' karate or kick boxing.  He's got the evening shift.  Media in Toronto is not like media in the US.  In the US, media personalities are expected to have a non-accent.  It's the unusual person who can make it with a strong accent.  Canada embraces its multiculturalism.  Mr. Diamond has a strong accent.  In fact, it took some getting used to.  Driving, not really paying attention to the radio, I would sometimes miss what he was saying.  It didn't matter.  His accent is part of his off-beat personality.  Not only do I, as a listener, not mind the accent, I really enjoy it.

Accents are interesting.  They make us who we are.  I am a New Yorker.  I definitely say cawfee sometimes.  I do not  say Lawn Guyland, even though I grew up there.  I went to Brandeis University in Massachusetts.  I also say cahfee.  I've been known to drop r's for no reason.  I say aloha (Hawaii).  I say y'all (North Carolina).  I have adopted, through no conscious choice, the South African tomato and banana from a dear friend with whom I spend a lot of time.  The man's name is Charles, but the river in Boston is the Chahles.  I speak a gibberish of English and Hebrew, and cause Sean no end of amusement when interference happens, and I am tongue tied because my mind can't figure out which language it is speaking.  Imagine a sentence that goes like this, "Sean, yesh lanu cawfee u bananas (in the South African accent)?"  It happens.   

So, I love Dominik Diamond.  I love his accent.  It tells me a little about who he is, and whence he comes.

Happy speaking.

Olympic Gold

I was reading an article in the Post today about Canada's medal count.  Being twelfth in overall medals satisfied the writer.  Still, he said "something is missing."  That same something was overly talked of in the last Olympics.  Gold.  Where is the gold?  He pointed out the medal counts of the US and China, especially the gold.

A recent study showed that bronze medal winners are the happiest.  It makes sense.  They are allowed to enjoy their accomplishment.  The silver medal winners are compared to the gold.  Where, oh where did they go wrong.  The gold medal winners are expected to repeat their performance.  It's not enough to win one gold.  We talk constantly of the gold medal records and repeats.

I think they're missing the point.  Yes, I know, I'm American, and the US leads in medals, with plenty of golds.  It is possible that even coming from a, so-called, winning country, that I still have a valid point.  To be an Olympic athlete is amazing.  These are the best in the world.  I love the opening ceremonies because that's when the dream is pure.  All the athletes are equal at that point.  They are all wonderful.  They all embody the dream.  In that moment, past medals don't matter, and the future ones can only be guessed at (after all, we saw a 50-1 long shot horse win a race last night).

To get to the Olympics is amazing.  When a country puts up a team, every citizen should be proud to watch and cheer, no matter the outcome.  When those three final athletes stand on the podium, they should ALL be proud, as should the nations they represent.  Of course no one chants, "We're number two!  We're number two!"  But to be a silver medalist is to be one of the top three athletes in your sport in the world.  It's a large world.  That's pretty impressive.

Yes, athletes make mistakes.  And those mistakes need to be commented on by the commentators in the moment, but when those same athletes stand tall on the podium, no matter the color they wear around their necks, or even if they are standing on the floor, they should stand tall, for they have accomplished something so many only dream of.

Split Personality & Stream of Consciousness- Lessons from Blogging

Blogging has taught me some lessons.

1. Some people have situational personalities.
              I have one personality.  I am the same at home and in the office.  I am the same in the classroom or at shul.  Yes, there are times when I have to be "on."  I have realized that I am a public figure, and so I change out of my gardening clothes to run to Home Depot, even though I'm changing right back when I get home.  I am conscious that people are looking at me in the most unusual places.  Of course in shul, but I am also RABBI when I pick up my kids, do the shopping, or even kick-box.  Still, if you were to spend an afternoon at my house, you'd realize that what you see is what you get.

                    My husband has different personalities. I don't think it's conscious.  There's Sean the joker.  That's Sean at his heart.  This personality shows up in every other one.  It's the one that make (extremely bad) puns from the bima.  The one who had the gall to say to a congregation, standing after the Amidah, "As I said to my garden, 'please be seeded.'"  If you don't get it, say it out loud.  It is uncontrollable.  One of my funniest afternoons was watching Sean try very, very, very hard not to comment at a staff meeting.  I thought he was going to explode.  

                    But there's also the very professional Rabbi Sean.  He is an amazing rabbi, perceptive, kind, and sympathetic.  He is very good at what he does, balancing the ridiculous puns with  a kind heart that reaches out to people.  This is the Sean who does hospital visits, funerals, and shiva calls, and does them well.  This is the Sean that inspires.

                    There's also Chaplain Sean.  I've been watching this Sean for a long time.  His posture changes when he dons the uniform.  Beyond that, he has "Chaplain Voice."  It's a tone and a syntax.  It's similar to "Rabbi Voice," very professional, even amidst the jokes.  Interestingly, Chaplain Sean has a slight southern lilt.  It's so funny since he's New York through and through at other times.  Still, it's definitely there.

                    There are other pieces- Wonderful Abba, Loving Husband, Devoted Son/Son-in-law.  And of course, they all overlap.  He's not Sybil, with one personality becoming subservient to the others.  Together they make up a very complex individual, who pulls out what he needs in each situation.

2. Drivel is still fun to write, and fun to read.

                      Who would have thought people would want to read this stuff, but they do.  Yes, some is educational.  Some is moving.  But much is my stream of consciousness thoughts that pour out when I get a chance.  It's this stream of consciousness thinking that has me blogging 3-4 entries in a sitting, then nothing for days or weeks.

                      This shouldn't surprise me.  I am the great lover of trashy novels.  I do not mean  poorly written romances.  Yes, I do read romances.  I read sci-fi.  I read mysteries.  I read fantasy, and drama, and comic writing.  My one requirement is that it be well-written.  My 11th grade English teacher, Mrs. Bendle, told us it's okay to read Danielle Steel as long as we recognize what we're reading.  She liked to read the New York Post.  She said it was because they really knew how to tell a story.  All these many years later, that is a lesson that stayed with me.  Read what you enjoy.  Just recognize what it is, and don't be ashamed.  On my night table are three books currently: The Book of Awesome, Fifty Shades Freed (now that Sean is finished with it), and Ender's Game.  On the shelf underneath are: 3 children's books- Little New Angel, What the Moon Brought, and Oh Brother, Oh Friend, How to Talk So Your Kids Will Listen, Square Foot Gardening, Morality for Muggles, and Anne of Green Gables, and a Humash.  I couldn't come up with a more varied collection if I tried.

3. Sean & I have different, yet complementary goals in life.
                I said this elsewhere, but it bears repeating.  Sean's goal in life seems to be making people laugh.  He has taken the Mishnah from Pirkei Avot, Greet Everyone with a Cheerful Face, and interpreted it in his own way.  He announces himself when entering a store, "Hi!  I'm Here!"  People smile to be near him, even if groaning in pain from his puns.  Maybe it's because we are groaning in pain.  

                       I decided as a child to follow that same Mishnah, and I hadn't even learned it yet.  I remember looking out the back window of our car, a Dodge Dart.  We were driving in Manhattan, and I was people watching.  There were no seat belt laws then, and I was on my knees, facing backward.  It was a grey day, and people weren't smiling, so I decided to make them smile.  I began to smile and wave at everyone.  Now, who can avoid smiling when a small child is smiling and waving at you.  As I grew older, I realized that we pay smiles forward.  Once we are smiling, we tend to smile at others.  They start to smile, and so on and so on.  I still do it.  I smile and greet people on the street.  I smile at people in the market.  I smile at people on the bus.  I like to say hello to strangers.  Greet people with a cheerful face.  Pay it forward, and you find that you feel happy too.

                       It's not the same in practice, but the end result spreads a little more happiness in the world, and if that's what Sean and I do, whether for our friends, in our rabbinate, or to the greater world through our blogs, then what a wonderful world this will be.

4. Spellcheck is not enough.  

                      No matter how many times I spell check and reread, I will still have mistakes.  Tonight I have made 3 corrections to this post alone, after posting.  It is a reminder that no matter what I do, no matter how good I am, I am still imperfect.  This is okay.  Please forgive and have patience with my mistakes.   If you find them, I am happy to correct them.

Now I'm really going to sleep... Well, maybe after I read just a bit.

Blogging Obsession

Sean's blog,, hit 10,000 hits.  A big mazel tov to him.  It's been funny as we come up on this momentous occasion.  Sean was planning as he got close.  He started writing.  He obsessed.  His blog has become part of his consciousness.

I am impressed, amused, and slightly jealous.  Impressed with his dedication.  I have always been, and continue to be, impressed with his ability to shine a lens on moments of life.  I am amused with the obsession his blog has become.  He is dedicated to it.  I think of things about which I want to blog while with the kids, in the car, at work, etc.  Unfortunately, by the time I get to blog, or even to a piece of paper and a pen, I have forgotten what it was that inspired me.  Sean does not have that problem.  And yes, I am a bit jealous.  Sean is the better blogger.  I cannot even seem to post my drashot on time, and often have to catch up with weeks at a time.

Some of this is circumstance.  Sean has gotten to travel with the Navy.  When he's traveling we both have much to blog about.  Sean, however, has the time, and I have the kids.  I always said I'd get a job where I could deploy too.  When I finally did, I had even less time away from kids than I did at home.  Blogging was never an option.

I tease him about this a lot.  The blog has become his fourth child, but it's also a window into our lives, as a blog should be.  We've always opened our home, and now we're doing it virtually.  Friends who are readers comment to us about our different writing styles.  It's even made me think about how we each relate to our blogs.  I write the way I speak.  Sometimes it's more stream of consciousness than coherent.  Sean has developed a blog personality.  It's similar to the way he changes for different situations.  That'll have to be a blog entry itself.  And even within a wonderful, communicative relationship, the constant reading of each others posts, gives an added level of insight into each other.

Maybe I'll be inspired by my wonderful hubby, and you'll all get to climb into my head as you climb into his.  But then again, probably not.

Good night.

I Got the Horse Right Here

Each summer Sean and I accompany friends, Jerry & Basha, to horse racing at Woodbine Raceway.  

I love racing.  I grew up near Roosevelt Raceway, and we'd go as teens to watch the trotters.  I've been to the races at Saratoga, and now, we head to Woodbine.  It's a lovely evening.  Year one we won over $200, after deducting our bets.  Year two it was somewhere between $150-200.  This year luck was not with us, but we spent a whole lot more time laughing.

We get to Woodbine in time for a drink and to relax a bit before the first race.  As we peruse the the racing form, Sean & I try very hard to remember how to read it.  We look at the stats.  We look at the comments by the professionals.  I look at the names of the horses & the colors the jockeys wear.  I would often bet on the name or color alone.  

This year we tried to use the stats.  Luck was definitely not a lady tonight.  We won on three tickets, none paid very much.  In fact, on the last ticket ($6.00) we won $4.60.  Yes ladies and gentlemen, we won and lost on the same ticket!

Still, for a night out, it was wonderful.  This year's collection of horses were not impressive, to say the least.  The best I could say about most of them after reading the comments of the professionals was, "meh."  However, it made for a very funny evening reading the comments, a total lack of inspiration in these animals as they were shifted to lower and lower levels to try and win.  Still, with all in the same class, we saw some great racing.  There were five photo finishes.  Two of these ended up being a dead heat to show.  (That's third place for all you racing neophytes.)  One horse, Bare Humor, in the fourth race won at 50:1 odds.  Once I was sure my bet was losing, I was thrilled to cheer on the  50:1 long shot.  It doesn't get better than that. (Well, maybe if I'd bet on him. He paid out $110.70 on a $1 bet to win.)

All in all, Sean and I spent less than $30 for an entire evening out, including betting every race.  We laughed (very hard) at the extreme unimpressedness of the horses (yes, I did make up that word), and spent a lovely evening with friends.  

The hope and plan is to head back in the fall with the kids.  I'd love to take them to the paddock, or to watch a turf race standing at the rail.  These are beautiful, powerful, noble creatures that make me marvel at God's creation.  The betting is fun too.  Next time I'm going back to my sure-fire horse picking method.  I'm betting on the jockey wearing blue and silver or maybe the bold choice of purple.  Can do.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Ekev- God is in the Details

I was once at an event where Rabbi David J. Wolpe was speaking. I was a student, and had tagged along with his brother, now Rabbi Dan Wolpe, to help sell books afterwards. Rabbi David opened his talk with the following words, “God loves you.” These were words not often spoken by rabbis at that time. We talked about God’s love for the Jewish people. We talked about God’s protection, mercy, and righteousness, but not about God loving us. It sounded like an old -time preacher. The language seems not to be the way we, as Jews, normally talk. Parashat Ekev reads like that. 
“And it shall come to pass, because ye hearken to theses ordinances… the Lord thy God shall keep with thee the covenant and the mercy… and He will love thee and bless thee… He will also bless the fruit of thy body and the fruit of thy land, thy corn and thy wine and thy oil.. Thou shalt be blessed above all peoples; there shall not be male or female barren among you, or among your cattle.  And the Lord will take away from thee all sickness…” (translation- Hertz Humash
It is a beautiful picture. If only we, as a people, would follow God, all would be, not just well, but perfect. Unfortunately, we know this is not true. The Jews have not always seemed blessed. Rather, as the joke says, “God, sometimes, could you choose someone else?”. Illness does not stay far from those who follow the mitzvot, and infertility is a very real and painful problem in our community.
Oh, but some will say, this was a different time. Others declare, “Circle the wagons!” Leading to an ever-right moving Haredi community. The idea being, if we could only separate ourselves from the sinful influences of the outside world, this could come true.
Reality is harsh. This is a beautiful picture. It is a picture we should strive to attain, but it is also an illusion. The Torah is not a literal text. It is not a straightforward history. The Torah is a theological text. It speaks in theological and ideological terms. When the Exodus tells us 600,000 souls left Egypt, there was no turnstile at Yam Suf counting the people as they crossed the sea.
So where does this leave us? It leaves us back in a dream state, but a dream state we should want to attain. As a people we have, throughout the centuries, suffered greatly, even when observing the mitzvot. As individuals we know that life is not always fair; that justice seems to evade those who deserve it, for the better and the worse. Still, Jews are the eternal optimists. Even among the thorns, we strive for achievement. We see learning as our pinnacle. And the result is we make the desert bloom; we help with infertility; and we work towards preventing and curing disease.
Examine the achievements of the Jewish people. Examine the achievements of our modern State of Israel, especially considered in the light of its mere 64 years. See that we, as a people and as a modern state, are still here despite the odds. There have been “great trials… and the signs and the wonders, and the mighty hand…” God is in the details.

Aches, Pain, & Aging

As my readers know, I kick-box.  I do it twice a week when life doesn't get in my way.  On off days I work in the garden (lots of kneeling, squatting, and up and down) and walk.

Not to toot my own horn, but I have always been athletic.  I'd love to take credit, but it's genetic.  I'm also wonderfully flexible.  At 44 I can do a split and lift my leg over my head without stretching out.  The senseis tease me about showing off when we stretch.  I'll admit that sometimes I do show off.  Sean and the kids are all in better shape than me, and this is one of few areas where I can beat them.  Sean & Jesse can't touch their toes.  I am still a tiny bit quicker than Jesse in the way I move, and have better stamina, but it's fading.  I always expected that as the kids and I aged they'd surpass me in abilities, but I'll take what I can as long as I can.

Kids aside, I'm sometimes amazed at the effect of aging on my body.  Sean has a favorite saying, "when you hit 40 the wheels fall off."  Forty is a significant age.  The body's physiology changes, and you really move into the next physical stage of life.  You don't heal as quickly.  You're more likely to injure yourself.  I have hit that stage.  Doing things that used to mean nothing hurts.  Last time we packed to move I pulled both rotator cuffs.  After rest and physio it still took over a year to fully heal; well, as fully as it's likely to.  I no longer wake with pain in my shoulders, but it still twinges now and then.  I strained my right knee in December.  It comes and goes.  With proper rest (a long one), it'd likely heal fully, but that means giving up kickboxing for at least two months, and that I cannot do.  And so, each day after kickboxing, or gardening, or whatever exercise I choose to do, I accept the pain with which I wake.

The Marines say "pain is weakness leaving the body."  My response is usually, "pain is the body's way of saying, 'STOP!!!'"  Reality is I've lived with pain for decades.  I've had chronic knee problems since I'm twelve.  One day, I think I was in my twenties, I woke without pain in my left knee.  I assumed my knee was numb.  It took a few minutes before I realized it simply didn't hurt.  So I accept the pain.  Pain  doesn't stop me.  As I age, I realize that I'm going to be sore.  I'm going to hurt.  The more I push myself now to get into better shape, the more I'm going to hurt.  I'll accept that.  I'll push, and I'll work through it.

Coach Herb Brooks, of the US Miracle on Ice hockey team, is believed to have said to his team, "Grow  through pain."  If you want to accomplish something, you have to be willing to give your all.  I may be aging, and I may be achy, but I plan to go into the future healthy, and if it takes a little (or a lot) of pain, I'll accept it.

Grow through pain, and come out better on the other side.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Dreaming the Olympic Dream

I'm catching up on the Olympics.  It's too bad.  Not that I am catching up, but that I have to.  Almost a week in, and I had watched none.  Part of this is due to the fact that we got rid of our cable.  Part of it comes from the change to alternate the summer and winter games so they are every two years.  We always seems to be gearing up for the next one.  I'd claim that most of it comes from being too busy.  But are we really too busy?

Sean & I once stayed up all night in Israel to catch the Superbowl.  We have become jaded.  There are so many sporting events,  bowls, and world championships that we no longer feel the importance.  Where is the national pride with which I watched, mesmerized, the Miracle on Ice in 1980?  How about the perfect 10 scored by Nadia Comaneci?  I was taking gymnastics as a kid, and was fascinated.  My eyes were glued to the television.

I have been watching the opening ceremonies.  Hats off to the queen for jumping from that plane.  (If you don't know what I'm talking about, you should look it up.)  She's quite the trooper, an amazing woman who has opened two Olympics, Montreal and London.  My eyes teared as the torch was passed and lit.  Young athletes were nominated to "carry the torch for a new generation."  From the previous generation to a future generation, the torch was passed, and lit.  I challenge you to watch that without emotion.

The Olympics have already been fraught with controversy.  I argue that this isn't so important.  Of course it's important in the scheme of fair play.  But it's controversial because we, even we old jaded people, believe in the Olympic dream.  We believe, or desperately want to believe, that we can come together, without politics, peacefully, to dream the dream, and allow the true nature of sportsmanship and fair play win out over the politics and the hatred too often seen in the world.

I could go on about 1972, but that's for another blog entry.  For now, I am embracing the dream for the next ten days.  I hope you'll join me.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Backyards and Barbecues

Laptops are a wonderful thing.  I am currently typing from my lanai.  (That's patio in English.  We have multiple sites on our property that can all be called by the same name, so have named them in various languages to save confusion.  It doesn't work.  We forget which is which, but one can hope.)  Anyway, I am sitting outside because I am lighting the barbecue, and one should never leave a flame unsupervised- scouts 101.  I am also sitting outside because it is beautiful.  The yard faces north, so is generally shaded at this time, although there is some sun on the mirpeset, aka the deck.  (There's also an enclosed porch, which we generally call, "the porch.")  A breeze is blowing, and I can hear the wind chimes tinkling.

There are wonderful sites out here.  Gandalf, our cat is cavorting.  He is overweight, and comes into the yard for exercise.  He likes to chase the butterflies.  He's not very good at catching them, but it is amusing for all to watch.  (Nora, our other cat, cannot come outside without a close chaperone.  Unlike Gandalf, who is too large to jump very high, Nora is amazingly agile.  She has leapt the six foot fence more than once, and so her yard hours are very limited.)

Currently, I am admiring my garden.  I learned to garden from my father.  He is a true gardener.  If there is soil it will be filled with a beautiful garden.  None of the normal things.  Dad likes rock gardening (No, not the Japanese way), and fills his gardens with interesting alpines and other plants from nurseries.  I am not a true gardener.  In fact, I don't really like it.  What I do love, though, is the harvest.  Currently I have growing english cucumbers and hairy cucumbers, broccoli, asparagus, and leeks in the first bed.  There are eight beds.
Bed 2- coriander, flat leaf parsley, Italian sweet peppers, green bell peppers, red peppers, buttercup squash.  Actually, I planted the squash in bed three, but a squirrel or other animal decided two plants belonged here.  Sean & I call that accidental gardening.
Bed 3- scallions, thyme, another herb I forgot  the name of and the squash I planted
Bed 4- lettuce, bush beans
Bed 5- yellow cherry tomatoes, red cherry tomatoes, beefsteak tomatoes
Bed 6- marigolds, carrots (small round ones good for growing in clay-like soil
Bed 7- Nasturtium, 3 kinds of basil, more lettuce to be ready at summer's end, and garlic
Bed 8- parsley and pumpkin

The pumpkin is taking over part of the yard, but I have an ACTUAL PUMPKIN and lots of flowers too.  The squash has grown into the beans and tomatoes, and the tomatoes have grown into the beans.  It's beautiful and yummy.

It's also an opportunity to visit the neighbors.  We have more produce than we can possibly eat.  Some went around the block last Shabbat.  More will go to the neighbors this week, especially to a new family who moved in down the block.

On to barbecues...
Barbecues are summer's bonus.  This year our barbecue died.  It lived a good life, but it's past its usefulness.  We haven't replaced it yet.  We have a fire pit.  My brother bought it for my birthday one year.  We've returned to charcoal, and use the pit.  It works.  It's also better for toasting marshmallows.  One Shabbat we had barbecue chicken and smores for dessert.  We made them prior to Shabbat.  Wrapped in foil, we left them banked on the edge of the pit, staying warm from the ash that was left.  It was a lot of fun.

Another wonderful thing about barbecues is the heat stays outside where it should.  There's no heating up of the kitchen, nor steaming of the windows.

Barbecue is also a team effort.  There's no saying "too many cooks spoil the barbecue."  It's the perfect thing to stand around the barbecue in a clump of people.

Barbecue can also span the range from the crudest to the most refined.

At the bottom level is the Israeli barbecue- take a reshet (a screen, sometimes a real screen, sometimes a grill) to your site.  Sometimes people bring a hibachi, sometimes there's just a hole in the ground, and you hope the fire won't spread.  Next you pour kerosene over your fuel (sometimes charcoal, sometimes gathered wood); toss a match, and pray (We Jews are a religious people.).  Food is usually chicken- pieces, drumsticks, or wings.  Actually, tonight we had Israeli Chicken.  The chicken is frozen whole, then cut into slices with a band saw.  It's cooked frozen so the pieces stay together.  YUM!

At it's most cultured, barbecues are used at fancy catering events.  I once slow-roasted a turkey breast on our grill.  It took four hours, but was juicy and delicious.

God bless summer.  God bless the backyard, and God bless the barbecue.